This particular blog post is a bit off the beaten path. It’s not intended to share sunshine and roses, but rather the unvarnished truth. It is not easy becoming a bestseller. First, your book needs to be good. Scratch that. Your book needs to be GREAT. Page-turners have a story arc and a compelling narrative. Depending on the premise, there should be action, drama, suspense, inspiration, romance, a relatable protagonist, an antagonist that readers love to hate, and intense sensory elements that elevate the reading experience. Can your audience see, smell, hear, touch and taste your words? If not, you have some rewriting to do.
Another truth — you get what you pay for. Often, editors can help you develop the finer points of your book. Some can even contribute content. That depends on what you hire them to do.
Proofreading is the least expensive form of editing and will get you a thorough scan for punctuation and grammar — but don’t expect the proofreader to do more than that. In other words, proofreading doesn’t automatically equate to “bestseller status.” While copyediting may get you some suggestions for improvement, only a developmental or substantive editor will take the reins and delve into your manuscript to enhance flow, story line, characterization, dialogue, etc. This is the most expensive type of editing process.
On a personal note, I’ve worked with many, many dozens of manuscripts over the past thirty-five years. I see a lot of promise in most of them. However, I’m constrained by an editing agreement to do the amount of work the author has requested. If the agreement is strictly for copyediting, chances are I’ll suggest improvements and provide direction. But I won’t rewrite a lot of content because the author has not requested it. It absolutely crushes me to work on a manuscript that could be a bestseller with the proper amount of attention and developmental editing, but often authors have tight budgets (especially emerging authors) and simply cannot invest in substantive edits.
It’s a conundrum.
Writing a humdinger of a story is half the battle. I’ll be honest — the hardest part of launching a book comes after it is written.
The truth is, you are facing a daunting, competitive and possibly saturated market. As far as achieving the bestseller status, you have some hills to climb. But if you have written a hard-to-put-down book, have a compelling synopsis, and have created healthy social media presence… well, you are on the right track. Luck, timing, persistence, a good agent and a good publisher all factor into your success.
Query literary agents can involve a long, slow learning process. You must find agents who accept submissions in your genre. You must submit a query letter and a synopsis based on the specifications listed on the agent’s website. Agents are picky. They aren’t paid by you. They are paid by the publishing houses based on the advance against sales (what the publisher pays you upfront). This is why agents reject the manuscripts they don’t believe will sell.
What will help convince an agent to represent you? Well, they’ll want to verify that your book can deliver. They’ll want to see an edited manuscript. They’ll also want to know if you have established a social platform for marketability. Do you have a social media presence? It helps if you’ve been teasing your book and generating anticipation. How many people have liked and followed your author page on Facebook and Twitter? Do you have a website and have you been blogging? If not, you should — literary agents will very likely look at your efforts and the results.
More on the Bestseller Quest
I’ll be discussing what publishers are looking for in future blog posts. In the meantime, do a bit of online searching for example of bestsellers and read the reviews. Be inspired by what readers want and what resonates in their favorite books. Then apply what you read to your own manuscript.